The Social Security Agency (SSA) administers several different social programs that provide financial benefits. They have social security office locations around the country to help people understand their options regarding social security benefits and related programs. It’s not always easy to figure out which of these programs is right for you. One of the most common Social Security questions is: what’s the difference between SSI and SSDI?
SSI and SSDI are similar programs that help people who are unable to make a living. However, there are a few key differences that are important to know if you plan to apply. This short guide will lay out all the information you need.
SSI ultimately stands for Supplemental Security Income. So, what is supplemental security income, exactly? SSI is a social program that provides monthly cash benefits to people in the following demographics:
Although this supplemental income program is administered by the SSA, its funding does not come from Social Security taxes. Instead, SSI is funded directly by the U.S. Treasury.
SSDI stands for Social Security Disability Insurance. This program also provides a monthly cash benefit to people with disabilities. While SSI is based more on financial need, SSDI is available only to people who have medical conditions that prohibit them from earning a living. Funding for SSDI comes from Social Security taxes. For that reason, people who want to qualify for SSDI must have sufficient work experience to be eligible. SSI has no work requirement.
Both SSI and SSDI disability benefits provide individuals and families with a monthly cash payment.
For SSI, the maximum amount that an individual can be awarded is $783 per month. A couple can receive up to $1,175 per month in SSI disability benefits.
The cash benefit of SSDI is typically more than that of SSI. Most people are awarded somewhere between $800-$1,800 per month, with the average amount in 2020 being $1,258. However, it is possible to be awarded as much as $3,011 per month in 2020.
For both SSI and SSDI, the maximum award amount usually changes every year based on inflation, cost of living, and other data.
In many cases, if you are eligible for SSI and SSDI, you may also be eligible for other benefit programs. In fact, people who receive SSDI are often able to collect SSI disability benefits, too. This is because SSI eligibility is based on financial need and an impairing medical condition, much like SSDI. Therefore, if the eligibility requirements are met for SSDI benefits, you may likely meet the requirements for certain SSI disability benefits.
However, the reverse is not always true: people who receive SSI benefits may not meet all the conditions for SSDI. This is because, unlike SSI, SSDI applications take your previous work experience into account. You have to be a qualified worker who has contributed to Social Security payroll taxes through your job for a certain number of years.
The number of years you need to have worked prior in order to qualify for SSDI benefits is based on your age at the time you became disabled. Here is how that number of years breaks down for different age groups:
An SSDI recipient may be eligible for Medicare. Medicare is a government health insurance program that helps low-income, disabled, and elderly citizens pay for healthcare expenses like prescription medication and hospital bills.
If you receive SSDI benefits, you can become eligible for Medicare only after two full years of being in the program.
If you are eligible to receive SSI benefits, you may not necessarily be able to qualify for Medicare. However, you may be able to qualify for Medicaid. Whereas Medicare is a federal program available to elderly and disabled individuals regardless of income, Medicaid is a state and federal program specifically for very low-income people.
You may be able to get on Medicaid as soon as you apply for SSI. In fact, 33 U.S. states use the SSI application as the Medicaid application. Other states and territories have a separate application for the two programs, but use the same criteria to determine eligibility for both SSI and Medicaid.
Both SSI and SSDI recipients are eligible to enroll in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Over 9.5 million Americans use SNAP benefits to help pay for groceries. It is the largest federal nutrition program in the country. Hundreds of thousands of grocery stores across the nation are authorized to accept SNAP benefits.
An important component of learning how to apply for SSI and SSDI are the application requirements. SSI and SSDI benefits are meant to provide aid for at-risk people who are in need. Therefore, your income must be severely limited in order to qualify. For SSDI, applicants must earn less than $1,070 per month.
To qualify for the SSI program, individual SSI applicants must earn less than $783 per month, and couples must earn less than $1,175 per month. SSI applications also take your other financial resources into account.
These resources include:
There are some financial assets that the SSA does not include when going over your countable resources. Property such as the home you reside in and a car that you depend on for transportation will not factor into your SSI application.
In most cases, neither SSI nor SSDI are awarded for short-term disabilities. Your impairing medical condition must last at least one year, or lead to your death, in order to be eligible for benefits.
The SSA maintains a list of impairing conditions—often referred to as the Blue Book—that are eligible to qualify for benefits. Both SSI and SSDI applications use the Blue Book to determine if your medical condition meets the criteria to be considered a disability. It’s important to keep in mind that the SSA’s definition of disability may not be the same as your definition or your doctor’s definition.
Some of the most common conditions that get approved for SSI or SSDI include:
Regardless of your condition, you will be asked to provide ample medical evidence to support your claim. When applying for either SSI or SSDI with a disability, you should be prepared to provide:
Both SSI and SSDI applications are processed by the SSA. You can apply online, by mail, or you can go in person at one of your local SSA offices. The SSA urges applicants who prefer to apply in person to schedule an appointment ahead of time. You can do so by calling the SSA’s toll-free phone number: 1-800-772-1213.
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